Wednesday, 31 January 2007

ShoeMoney's AdSense Interview

Jeremy "ShoeMoney" Schoemaker has recently interviewed Brian Axe from Google AdSense and made the entire interview available in MP3 format.

The interview covers such topics as the recent changes in the Program Policies, being banned from AdSense, Smart Pricing, and more!

This is a must-hear AdSense interview.

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Friday, 26 January 2007

How Google Targets AdSense Ads

There is a lot of speculation about how Google actually targets AdSense ads. Does it read the keywords meta tag? Should you put keywords in b(old) tags? What about em, strong, or i(talic) tags? Does font-size matter? What about the title tag? And so on.

To make matters worse, I regularly read messages from supposed AdSense experts stating with apparent authority that most of the above really do make a difference, particularly the meta keywords and b tags. So, do these things really make a difference?

Well, the answer to that question was recently supplied by a Google employee and I have kindly been given permission to share that information with you, courtesy of the direct recipient, Jon of Cobnut Web Services.

However, before we take a closer look, we need to examine what we already know from official sources about how Google targets AdSense ads.

What Google Says About Ad Targeting

In AdSense's help pages you will find the following in answer to the question, "How does Google target ads to my website?"

We go beyond simple keyword matching to understand the context and content of web pages. Based on a sophisticated algorithm that includes such factors as keyword analysis, word frequency, font size, and the overall link structure of the web, we know what a page is about, and can precisely match Google ads to each page.
In addition, according to AdSense help, the only method of emphasizing some text over others, and having other text ignored, is by the use of Section Targeting.

Thus, we can conclude from official sources that the factors affecting ad targeting include:
  1. Keyword analysis
  2. Word frequency
  3. Font size
  4. Link structure (overall, web-wide)
  5. Section targeting
However, many of those terms are pretty vague. Do "keyword analysis" and "word frequency" include the keywords meta tag, for example?

One point that is of great interest though is that font size is listed as a factor. I can only assume that this is true whether the font size is declared using font tags or CSS's font-size. Thus, it appears that words in a larger font may be given more emphasis than those in a smaller font. It is also my opinion that this applies mostly to headings and sub-headings that incorporate a larger font, not simply using a large font size for keywords that appear in the middle of sentences (if you see what I mean!).

What Has Been Shared With Me About Ad Targeting

Much of the information I received simply repeats the information above but it also contains a few hidden gems:
Our technology takes into account factors such as linguistics, keyword analysis, word frequency, font size, and the overall link structure of the web. AdSense only targets ads based on overall site content, not keywords within the meta tag or categories . . .
[i]f you'd like to display ads related to specific topics on your website, we recommend including more text-based content about these topics on your site to assist our crawlers in gathering information about your pages and determining relevant ads to display. Complete sentences and paragraphs are helpful to our crawlers in determining the content of a page. (Emphasis not in original.)
So lets, take a closer look at those gems.

Google Does Not Target Ads Based on the Keywords Meta Tag

AdSense only targets ads based on overall site content, not keywords within the meta tag

So, it is the overall site content that counts and not meta tag keywords. This is a very important point because it implies that you should be able to get ads that are relevant to your site even on pages that have low textual content provided there is sufficient text on the site as a whole.

Google Needs Text-Based Content

Now, this piece of information isn't exactly a surprise or new, but it's good to have it re-emphasized by Google that AdSense is contextual advertising with an emphasis on the text! If you don't have text, you won't get targeted ads.

Google Needs "Complete Sentences and Paragraphs"

Thus, if you want well-targeted ads on your site, you don't just need text, you need text that is comprised of complete sentences and paragraphs. That doesn't mean that Google cannot ascertain context from "telegram-style" bullet points or any other text but it does mean that the more keywords you have in complete sentences and paragraphs, the more accurately targeted your ads will be.


So, if you want highly targeted ads on your site, make sure your follow the following guidelines:
  1. Put keywords in larger font-sizes (probably headings/sub-headings, etc.)
  2. Try to ensure that pages linking to your site incorporate your keywords inside the hyperlinks
  3. Use keywords inside internal hyperlinks (i.e. hyperlinks between pages of your own site)
  4. Employ section targeting
  5. Ensure there is sufficient "keyword-rich" text across your site as a whole
  6. Make sure that your keywords are contained in complete sentences and paragraphs
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Thursday, 25 January 2007

Bye-Bye eBay

I am done with eBay.

eBay used to be a great place to sell stuff and I have sold many items on eBay over the years. However, that has all changed. eBay now has a virtual monopoloy in the online auction world and its power has gone to its head. The fees that are now being charged by eBay U.K., especially when coupled with the additional fees you have to pay PayPal, which is, of course, also owned by eBay, it means that it is now no longer viable for me to sell on eBay.

So, I have closed down my eBay store and, if I ever need/want to sell anything else online, I certainly will never use eBay again unless they drop their fees by a considerable margin.

Yes, there are other online auctions but none that even comes close to having the clout that eBay has. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Bye-bye eBay.

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Wednesday, 24 January 2007

Sick of Inside AdSense Video Posts

As you've probably already figured, I'm not happy with all of the video posts that keep appearing on the official AdSense blog, "Inside AdSense." The latest post, "Laura Chen answers your referrals questions" contains the following teaser:

Laura addresses these burning questions:

1. Why am I receiving less than the full amount for each conversion in my reports? Is something wrong?

2. After I've referred a person to AdSense, can I see how much they've earned so far?

3. Can I ask users to click my referral buttons?
The post goes on to mention how you can find further information on referrals in the AdSense Help Center.

So, what is my problem with these video posts, and this post in particular? One simple word: accessibility.

Video posts are great if you have a decent computer with speakers and you can hear - but what if you can't hear?

I am shocked and dismayed that in this day and age, Google doesn't provide a transcript of the video that is linked to from the post itself. As an accessibility advocate, I think this is appalling.

What makes this even worse is that at least 2 of the questions in the "teaser" are not answered in the AdSense Help Center. How frustrating is that!

Shame on you Google.

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Monday, 22 January 2007

Joel Comm's Monthly Templates Violate AdSense Program Policies?

In the Program Policies for AdSense, which all AdSense publishers must adhere to, you can read the line:

No Google ad may be placed on pages published specifically for the purpose of showing ads, whether or not the page content is relevant.
The well-known Joel Comm, author of "The AdSense Code," sells from his web site AdSense templates, which are basically ready-built web sites, content and all, whose purpose is solely that of generating income via AdSense ads.

That sounds like a Program Policy violation to me.

So, I left a comment on his blog post in which he promoted his monthly templates. I mentioned this program policy and my opinion that his templates possibly violated the AdSense program policy. Now a few days later, my comment has not been posted and, of course, he has left no reply.

That troubles me. I'd mentioned in a previous post entitled "Joel Comm or Joel Con?" that I had my concerns about Joel, now I'm more concerned than ever.

So, in order to assuage my concerns, I wrote to AdSense support to inquire as to whether or not such templates violate the program policies and I received an interesting response:
I understand that you would like to know on whether using a certain template complies with the program's policy. However, we do not endorse or encourage the use of any third-party tools.

We recommend that you exercise caution when using third-party software to ensure that you do not violate the AdSense Terms and Conditions. Please note that AdSense participants are solely responsible for verifying that any tools or software used in conjunction with AdSense do not violate the AdSense Terms and Conditions.
So, if I were you, I would not use any pre-built web site templates, whether they are from Joel or anyone else for that matter.

You have been warned!

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Finnished With AdSense?

So, I was looking at my Internet Marketing and SEO Blog earlier today when I noticed the following AdSense ad:

Now, my blog is written entirely in English. I am sitting here at my computer in the U.K. yet I'm being served an AdSense ad for SEO in Finnish! I have a feeling it won't be the most popular ad being published on my blog.

Go figure!

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Friday, 19 January 2007

Other Contextual Ads Get the Official OK from AdSense

I just received an email from Google in which they confirmed my interpretation of the Program Policy changes and, as a result, you may now run any other contextual ads alongside AdSense ads provided they have a different appearance, which, in some cases, means a different color scheme.

In addition, the email also confirmed that excessive advertising is no longer prohibited but is merely discouraged because "doing so may result in fewer repeat visitors."

Note, however, that the terms and conditions of the other advertising programs may prohibit their use alongside AdSense. In particular, the Yahoo Publisher Network's conditions prohibit their use alongside AdSense ads.

The bulk of the response that I received from Google is copied below:

AdSense publishers may display ads from other contextual ad networks on the same page as Google ads only if the formatting or color scheme of these ads is sufficiently different from the layout of the Google ads. In other words, if you choose to place non-Google ads on the same site or page as Google ads, it should always be clear to the user that the ads are served by different advertising networks and that the non-Google ads have no association with Google. If the formats are naturally similar, we'd ask that you use different color schemes for the competing ads.
Of course, we're constantly investing in our advertising technology, and we believe that Google ads will monetize best for most publishers. Be aware that the addition of third party ads to your site may cause fewer users to click the Google ads on your site and thus your AdSense earnings may decrease. We'd also recommend that publishers be careful not to place excessive advertising on their sites, as doing so may result in fewer repeat visitors.
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Lesser Known Forbidden Uses of AdSense

In the depth of the AdSense Terms and Conditions, in the Prohibited Uses section, you will find the following:

You shall not, and shall not authorize or encourage any third party to . . . display any Ad(s), Link(s), or Referral Button(s) on any error page, on any registration or "thank you" page (e.g., a page that thanks a user after he/she has registered with the applicable Web site), on any chat page, in any email, or on any Web page or any Web site that contains any pornographic, hate-related, violent, or illegal content;
The two "prohibitions" that I want to concentrate on in this post are the "registration page" and the "thank you page."

Even though this is consistent with Google's requirement that ads be placed on pages with "content," I can foresee a situation whereby this condition is unintentionally breached.

If your web site has been created as a dynamic site, using a technology such as ASP,, PHP, ColdFusion, or even SHTML, you may well have created a site template that incorporates your AdSense ads into each and every page of your site via a standard "include file" or template file. If that is the case and your site contains a registration page or a thank you page, then you will need to conditionally remove the AdSense ads from those pages in order to comply with the Terms and Conditions.

(Note, by "conditionally" I mean by using programming logic such as: if page = registration then don't display ads).

This example shows you just how easy it is to unwittingly fall foul of AdSense's Terms and Conditions!

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Is "Excessive Advertising" Now Allowed By AdSense Program Policies?

Prior to the January 2007 changes in the AdSense Program Policies, sites displaying Google ads were not permitted to include "excessive advertising." However, this is no longer listed in the policies as one of the things that AdSense sites may not include.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, I guess it now means that you can put as much advertising on your pages as you like, provided you adhere to the rest of the policies and the Terms and Conditions.

This may also be a response to the fact that you can now contain a lot of Google ads on a single page: 3 ad units, 1 link unit, 2 search boxes and 2 referral units per product (which gives you 8 in total). Now, given that a wide skyscraper can contain 5 ads, that gives you a potential grand total of:

15 ads
1 link unit
2 search boxes
8 referral units

which gives you 26 all together! That sounds a tad excessive to me!

However, I have a feeling that things are not quite that simple. Given that AdSense still requires Google ads to be displayed on pages that have "content," make sure that your pages have more genuine content that ads, otherwise you could find yourself in trouble.

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Thursday, 18 January 2007

AdSense Now Allows other Contextual Ads?!

According to Joel Comm's blog, he has heard officially from Google that you may now use "contextual ads like those provided by Kontera, Intellitxt, Amazon and Chitika . . . on the same pages as your AdSense ads."

Interesting, especially in light of the latest Jensense post in which Jennifer explains how the Terms and Conditions forbid the use of "any non-Google content-targeted advertisement(s)."

Of course, I still need to look into whether Kontera, etc. allow the use of AdSense alongside their ads!

I wonder if Google will be updating the Terms and Conditions too!

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Digging Deeper into the New AdSense Program Policies

As I mentioned in my previous post, "New AdSense Program Policies", the "Competitive Ads and Services" section now reads

In order to prevent user confusion, we do not permit Google ads or search boxes to be published on websites that also contain other ads or services formatted to use the same layout and colors as the Google ads or search boxes on that site.
In this post I want to concentrate on the first six words of this policy, "[i]n order to prevent user confusion."

That's an interesting statement, don't you think? What Google is saying here is that, the entire rationale for our policy is that we don't want our users thinking they're clicking on a Google ad when they're really clicking on an AdBrite ad, or a Yahoo Publisher Network (YPN) ad because they'll get confused.

What a load of baloney!

Do you honestly think John or Jane Surfer could care less whether the ad is from Google, AdBrite, Yahoo, or even Bidvertiser!?! Yet, apparently Google is so concerned about us being "confused" that they want to make sure their ads look different to everyone else's.

I would love to hear from Google why they think John or Jane is getting confused and how that's harming them (harming John/Jane Surfer, that is).

I personally think this is a complete bluff on Google's part - all they're concerned about is making sure it's as hard as possible to incorporate two competing ad services in your web site, so that you will stick with AdSense.

On a side note, the only other time I've ever come across "preventing confusion" being used as a rationale for anything is in the area of trademark law. In trademark law, the "likelihood of consumer confusion" is a key concept and one that must be proven in order to win a trademark infringement lawsuit. Could Google possibly have legal reasons tied in with trademark law? I don't think so, as I said above, I think they're just concerned with maintaining their market share, but maybe there's a tad more to it than that.

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New AdSense Program Policies

Google have just updated and amended the AdSense Program Policies page. After reading it through, the following caught my attention:

Copyrighted Material

The policies now state

Website publishers may not display Google ads on web pages with content protected by copyright law unless they have the necessary legal rights to display that content. Please see our DMCA policy for more information.
Previously the policy referred specifically to video and digital music (e.g. MP3) etc. This new policy wording appears broader in that it now specifically refers to any content that is protected by copyright. This is to ensure that Google is conforming with the requirements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).

In practice this means that, if your web page contains any content at all that is not authored or created by yourself, it either must be:
  1. In the public domain
  2. Subject to one of the exceptions to copyright infringement, such as fair use, or
  3. Published with the permission of the author and used in accordance with any condition accompanying that permission
Ad Placement

The new policy wording states that a single web page may contain
Up to two referral units from each referral product or offering may be displayed on a page, in addition to the ad units, search boxes, and link units specified above.
If my memory serves me correctly, prior to the update, you were only allowed one referral unit per product.

In addition, the policy states
No Google ad may be placed on any non-content-based pages
No Google ad may be placed on pages published specifically for the purpose of showing ads, whether or not the page content is relevant.
This wording is not new but it is worth emphasizing that AdSense is not permitted on any pages without content or on pages that have been created purely for displaying AdSense. This means that those AdSense templates that you see for sale all over the place, including those by AdSense guru Joel Comm, violate AdSense's program policies!

Competitive Ads and Services

This section has undergone a quite significant change in wording and now states
In order to prevent user confusion, we do not permit Google ads or search boxes to be published on websites that also contain other ads or services formatted to use the same layout and colors as the Google ads or search boxes on that site. Although you may sell ads directly on your site, it is your responsibility to ensure these ads cannot be confused with Google ads.
This is a very interesting change because it appears that Google has removed one of the previous requirements, that competitive ads must not be "contextual." Furthermore, the new wording clarifies what Google used to refer to as ads that "mimic" Google ads.

Thus, under the new wording, it appears that competitive ads are now permitted provided they do not look like the Google ads that appear on that particular site. This is also another subtle change because it implies that the competitive ads may look similar to Google ads provided they have a different color scheme to the Google ads that are appear on the same web site. This also implies that other contextual ad programs may be used, such as Kontera.

I have written to AdSense support to clarify these points and will post their response when it's received.

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Wednesday, 17 January 2007

AdSense Myths: A Quick Follow-Up

Yesterday I posted a short article about common AdSense myths, offering my opinion as to whether each myth was untrue or simply unsubstantiated. In response to a comment to this post, that has since been deleted by the author, I realize that I missed out some pretty important information. For the myths that I marked as unsubstantiated (unsub), I missed out my personal opinion as to whether those unsubstantiated myths are true or false. For those marked as untrue, I didn't give my reasons. So here goes (with the myths numbered as per the previous post).

1. Google gives more weight to words in bold (<b>) tags when allocating the ads to display (unsub)

I personally don't believe this is true at all. For what it's worth, I also don't believe it's true for regular search engine optimization ("SEO") purposes either. I do think that some people have thought to themselves "maybe if I put my keywords in bold the AdSense bot will take more notice of them" and that thought has somehow developed a life of it's own until it's been promoted as a valid means of emphasizing keywords for AdSense.

Now, as far as I am aware the only way for regular AdSense publishers to emphasize some words over others is to use Section Targeting, as described in AdSense Help.

Note, I think exactly the same thing is true of the <strong>, <em> and <i> tags.

2. Google gives more weight to words in H1 tags when allocating the ads to display (unsub)

My thoughts on this exactly echo my thoughts on the <b> tag, with the single exception that I do think H1 possibly has some benefit for regular SEO.

3. Google uses the keywords meta tag to determine the ads to display (unsub)

This is possibly the myth that I am most on the fence over. I think the AdSense bot may read the keywords meta tag but I've never read anything authoritative indicating that it does. The only way to find out would be to create a page with no other textual content and see what happens! For the moment, my opinion is a "definite maybe!"

4. The higher your Google Pagerank, the better paying ads you get (untrue)

I think this myth is a complete load of hogwash. Pagerank is an element of ranking search results, not which ads get displayed on your site. I also don't think Google has any mechanism in place whereby it gives better paying ads to one site as compared to another site that has equivalent content. I personally believe the only differences that occur are a result of Smart Pricing.

5. You are more likely to get CPM ads if you select the "image ads only" option (untrue)

As discussed in my earlier AdSense Nonsense post, there are both image and textual pay-per-click (PPC) ads. Furthermore, you only get CPM ads if an AdWords advertiser handpicks your site to advertise on. Thus, all selecting "image ads only" does is to limit the type of PPC ads you'll get.

6. The main source of differences in earnings per click is Google's "smart pricing" (untrue)

As I discussed in my article AdSense: Making It Work for You, on, the amount you earn is affected by the number of ad units displayed on the page because Google always puts the best paying ads in the first ad unit (as determined by the position of the ad code in your raw HTML). Thus, the more ads and ad units you have, the more lower-paying ads there will be for the visitor to click on. I personally believe this probably has a greater effect than smart pricing in many cases. Having said that, smart pricing is certainly not something to be taken lightly.

7. You may not display any other ads on the same page as AdSense ads (untrue)
8. You may not display any other ads that are related to the content of the page on the same page as AdSense ads (untrue)

I'll tackle these two together. You may display any other ads on the same page as AdSense ads provided three conditions are met:

a) That the ads are not "contextual." By this, Google means that the ads mustn't be automatically displayed as the result of some algorithm that determines the type of ads to display based on the page's content.

b) That the ads do not "mimic" AdSense ads. By this, Google means that the ads mustn't look like AdSense ads.

c) That the site as a whole does not contain "excessive advertising."

[Update: As of the January 2007 AdSense Program Policies update, the Site Content restrictions no longer expressly mention "excessive advertising." Google's policy on Competitive Ads and Services has also been updated, as I discuss in my more recent posts, "New AdSense Program Policies" and "AdSense Now Allows Other Contextual Ads?!"]

9. It is forbidden to edit the color codes of your ads directly in the Javascript code, you must do it via the AdSense setup interface (untrue)

I'm sure I'll get hung, drawn and quatered by many people for this but editing the color codes in your AdSense Javascript code is permitted. There is absolutely no difference whatsoever between using the AdSense Setup interface of the AdSense web site to edit the colors and simply editing the colors yourself. You are not permitted to alter the code but editing the colors isn't altering the code at all.

10. Google will close your AdSense account if your CTR is too high (untrue/unsure!)

As indicated, I am a tad unsure about this particular topic. However, I tend to believe that having a consistently and unusually high CTR may trigger some pretty severe monitoring by Google to ensure that those clicks really are valid but I can't imagine Google closing an account just because of a high CTR with no other causes for concern . . . but then again, I'm generally less than impressed with the way many AdSense accounts have been closed down without warning!

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

AdSense Myths: What's True and What Isn't

If you read AdSense help forums enough, you will soon discover a ton of common myths about AdSense, how it works, how ads are assigned, and so on. In this post I shall list several of the most common AdSense myths. Some of these myths are just plain wrong, others are often stated as fact but with no authoritative evidence to corroborate or discount them, so they may be true.

After each "myth" I am indicating in parentheses my opinion as to whether the myth is untrue or just unsubstantiated ("unsub"). Where applicable, I am also hyperlinking my opinion to other blog posts or articles of mine that express the background for my belief.

  1. Google gives more weight to words in bold (<b>) tags when allocating the ads to display (unsub)
  2. Google gives more weight to words in H1 tags when allocating the ads to display (unsub)
  3. Google uses the keywords meta tag to determine the ads to display (unsub)
  4. The higher your Google Pagerank, the better paying ads you get (untrue)
  5. You are more likely to get CPM ads if you select the "image ads only" option (untrue)
  6. The main source of differences in earnings per click is Google's "smart pricing" (untrue)
  7. You may not display any other ads on the same page as AdSense ads (untrue)
  8. You may not display any other ads that are related to the content of the page on the same page as AdSense ads (untrue)
  9. It is forbidden to edit the color codes of your ads directly in the Javascript code, you must do it via the AdSense setup interface (untrue)
  10. Google will close your AdSense account if your CTR is too high (untrue/unsure!)
Disclaimer: As stated, I am merely expressing my opinion as to whether these myths are true or false. Act on my opinion at your own risk!

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Monday, 15 January 2007

Agloco: What No-One Seems to be Mentioning About It

I've read several bloggers promoting Agloco (aff) lately, such as Joel Comm, for example. Agloco is basically a paid-to-surf program: you sign up, download some software (the "viewbar" ™) and ads are displayed while you surf the Internet. You are then paid a certain amount according to your surfing and, presumably, the ads displayed.

However, what no-one seems to be mentioning about Agloco is that it is still currently in Beta testing phase and you can't actually download the viewbar at all unless invited to do so directly. I signed up with them several weeks ago and still cannot access the viewbar. What's more, according to their site:

The AGLOCO Viewbar™ is currently in limited beta testing and is not yet available for download. We expect that it will start to be available to download in several weeks. It will be released to Members in the order in which Members signed up. No testers are receiving any earnings while using the Viewbar™ in this testing phase. For now, we ask you to build the community, because both you and AGLOCO make more if you grow the community.
Now, I'm sure in time Agloco will be another useful tool for earning money online but, for the time being, it appears you won't be earning a cent from it! I wonder why no-one's mentioning that.

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This Site's Feed

Just a quick note to let my readers know that, as from today, 15th January 2007, the RSS feed for this blog is now a "full feed" rather than a short feed. This is mostly in reponse to a few blog posts by successful bloggers that I've read recently stating that full feeds are the way to go! So, here goes!

Alternatives to AdSense: Bidvertiser

In the middle of last year, Google wrote to me to inform me that I had to remove AdSense ads from my web site,, because the site was violating AdSense's trademark usage policy. This was a great shame because the AdSense ads had been performing well, which meant Google was earning, the advertisers were getting targeted clicks, and I was earning too. A win-win-win situation, you'd think. But, whatever, I had to remove the ads. This meant that I needed to explore for myself some of the alternatives to AdSense.

One of the main programs I've been using is Bidvertiser (aff). Now, I've read that some people have had pretty good success with Bidvertiser, however, in my experience, compared to AdSense, it has been a complete and utter waste of time. Since July 14, 2006, I have earned a grand total of $7.24 from Bidvertiser ads on (thankfully, that is not my only source of income!).

Now, that's a bit unfair because I'm not only displaying Bidvertiser ads, I'm rotating them with other ads, but even so, compared to AdSense, Bidvertiser's performance has been pretty dreadful. So what are the reasons for this? Below are my thoughts on the possible reasons:

  1. AdSense's ads were way more targeted to my audience than Bidvertiser's. My site was primarily promoting Google AdWords and Google AdSense and most, if not all, of the ads were very specifically targeted to users of those two programs. On the other hand, Bidvertiser's most targeted ads tended to be about general "work from home," "earn money online" or "get rich quick" programs.
  2. The quality of the ads themselves were generally much poorer than AdSense ads. They were often advertising rather questionable products or services and many of the ads were full of spelling mistakes and just poorly written. This was not true of all of the ads, but enough of them to catch my attention.
  3. Many of the ads automatically approved for display on my site were either very untargeted or simply downright offensive. Ads were automatically approved for online casinos and the ad with the best payout in my currently approved list is for anabolic steroids!! I also regularly find ads for various questionable financial services and eBay items, which have nothing to do with my site and which I certainly don't want.
My biggest other criticism of Bidvertiser, as alluded to in point 3. above, is that I have to continually monitor the ads being displayed on my site in order to prevent inappropriate ads (to put it mildly) from appearing. This is such a drag. It would be great if Bidvertiser gave us the option to require our pre-approval before selecting new ads to appear.

All in all, even though I've heard of successful Bidvertiser users, my rating compared to AdSense would be 2 out of 10. Perhaps, as this blogger found, in order to earn money from Bidvertiser, you may only be successful when they are the ones advertising on your site!

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Perry Marshall: What's Up with His Affiliate Program?

Perhaps it's just me, but I think something's up with Perry Marshall's affiliate program for his "Definitive Guide to Google AdWords."

In the 3rd quarter of last year, this program was my most successful affiliate program. Of those that signed clicked on the affiliate links, 49% of the people signed up for his email mini-course and 5% purchased products. However, after some changes were made, a weird thing happened in the 4th quarter. Since that time, only 24% of people clicking on the ads are reported as having signed up for the email mini-course and less than 1% (0.89% to be precise) have purchased products.

So, signups have dropped from 49% to 24% and the conversion rate for purchases has dropped from 5% to 0.89%.

Doesn't that seem like a rather odd drop to you? What's more, no product has been sold at all for months now.

Well, I just took a detailed look at Perry's affiliate interface and found that in the area where you generate your links, the drop-down box from which you choose the affiliate program you're promoting no longer shows "Definitive Guide to Google AdWords" (or whatever it used to display), instead it has "AdWords > test redirect for tracking stats."

So, were we supposed to update our affiliate links, is the affiliate program now ended, are we simply meant to use this new link, even though it indicates it's merely a "test?" I don't know but I do know that no-one has contacted me about this in order to let me know what's going on.

One final thing ... I didn't get paid when I should have last year so I tried contacting Perry Marshall, or the people handling his affiliate programs, and had a job doing so. For ages, no-one responded to any of my emails, even though I used the link provided on his page. In the end I had to do some detective work to find out his company's phone number. When I did eventually get to speak to someone they were very helpful but, all in all, the ability to communicate with anyone regarding the affiliate program was sorely lacking.

I earned some good money from this program, which meant I also earned Perry some good money. However, I am now having to consider dropping his ads entirely.

Before I do that though, I shall try contacting them again and ask what's going on. I'll let you know if I hear anything.

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Wednesday, 10 January 2007

AdSense Optimization: Tricks that Harm AdSense Publishers?

For a while now I've felt slightly uncomfortable with the term "optimization" when it comes to AdSense ads. However, this feeling of discomfort was irrevocably increased today when I finally read an AdSense publisher, and one who writes frequently in the official AdSense Help forum, refer to blending ad colors and "tricks" in the same sentence. This got me thinking about two key concepts that I want to explore further in this post. First, that AdSense optimization is, at least partly, about tricking the user into clicking on ads. Second, that this form of optimization may ultimately harm the AdSense publisher.

Optimization as "Tricking"

Whenever anyone asks about ad optimization, there is one piece of advice that is almost certainly given above and beyond any other, that of "blending" the ads. Blending means to make sure that the ads have the same background, foreground, and hyperlink colors as the rest of the text on the web site.

In addition, many dedicated AdSense publishers try to place their ads in such positions that the site visitors could easily be mistaken into thinking that the ads are not ads at all but are just regular links on the site; or make the "normal" hyperlinks less prominent, so that the ads are the things most likely to be clicked on. This is where I really start to have a problem. Is it right to earn money from hard working AdWords advertisers by tricking people into clicking on your ads? Even the simple act of blending the colors, as this blog does, is verging on tricking the user because it's a way of camouflaging the ads against the rest of the page in order to reduce "ad blindness."

If it is tricking users, then why do AdSense publishers do it? Obviously, because they're desperate for those clicks in order to earn money. However, by tricking visitors into clicking on their ads, are they really shooting themselves in the foot?

Optimization as a Harmful Practice

So, if I'm "tricking" my visitors into clicking on my ads, or even just being a tad "crafty" in the way my users perceive my ads (i.e., that they're not necessarily entirely aware they are clicking on an ad), how can that be harming me? I'm getting a click, which earns me money, so surely that's a good thing, isn't it? Here's why I think it may be a harmful practice.

The source of the potential harm is Google's mysterious Smart Pricing, which I discussed in an earlier post and I recommend a read of it.

The principle underpinning Smart Pricing is that "Google's smart pricing feature automatically adjusts the cost of a keyword-targeted content click based on its effectiveness compared to a search click." Also, Google determines "effectiveness" by the likelihood a click will result in a conversion, whether that be a product sale, newsletter signup, site registration, etc.

So, if Google thinks a click on a content ad, i.e. and AdSense ad, is less likely to result in a conversion, it will reduce the amount the advertiser has to pay and, therefore, the amount the Adsense publisher earns.

This is where the harm of tricking is really seen. If users click on AdWords ads that appear on the right hand side of Google's search results, on, for example, the users are almost certainly aware that they are clicking on an advertisement. However, if they are clicking on an ad on an "optimized" web page, they may not even realize it is an ad and they are almost certainly less consciously aware that it's an ad they're clicking on and, what's more, an ad that is there to produce a particular result (a "conversion") for the advertiser.

In which scenario is the ad click more likely to end up in a conversion, one where the "clicker" is aware it's an ad or one where they're unware? In my opinion, a user who clicks on an ad, fully aware that it is an ad, is far more likely to end up buying from the advertiser, signing up for their newsletter, or whatever the advertiser is seeking.

Therefore, by "tricking" a user into clicking on the ad, the click is less likely to lead to a conversion, which will then result in a greater discount being given to the advertiser as a result of smart pricing, which will then result in a lower income per click for the publisher! So, if you are tricking your users into clicking on those ads, you may well be earning significantly less per click (CPC), even if your click-thru rate (CTR) increases. That decrease in CPC may even outweigh the money earned from the higher CTR. In this case, your "optimization" would actually result in less income, not more!

I've always believed that you need integrity in business and, with Smart Pricing in place, it applies equally to AdSense publishing.

Worth thinking about.

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Tuesday, 9 January 2007

eCPM, the Evil Twins of AdWords and AdSense

The concept of eCPM continues to confuse both new and experienced AdSense publishers. As I explained in a previous post, for AdSense publishers, eCPM is merely a calcuation based on past performance that indicates how much you are earning per 1,000 page impressions and is calculated using the formula (earnings/impressions) * 1000.

However, to add to the confusion, the abbreviation "eCPM" is also used in the world of AdWords advertising but has both a different formula and a totally different purpose. As the AdWords Help Glossary states:

Effective CPM, or eCPM, is the effective cost per 1000 impressions generated by a cost-per-click ad. eCPM is determined by multiplying a number of factors, including the ad's cost per click (CPC) and its clickthrough rate (CTR). The resulting eCPM can be used to rank CPC ad campaigns against CPM campaigns.
Thus, in the world of AdWords, eCPM is a tool that effectively converts CPC (cost per click) figures into CPM equivalents for the purpose of determining the rank of regular CPC ads as compared to CPM AdWords ads. On the other hand, in the world of AdSense, eCPM is merely a reporting figure whose calculation converts CPC figures into their "effective" CPM equivalents but has no "active" purpose . . . for AdSense, nothing is determined by the value of eCPM but, on the contrary, AdSense's eCPM is determined by other data.

Thus, to summarize, Google uses the abbreviation eCPM in both AdWords and AdSense but in each instance the formula and the purpose is different. They are completely separate from each other and must not be confused one with the other. For AdWords, eCPM converts CPC figures into CPM equivalents, which determine the ranking of AdWords ads. In AdSense, eCPM is merely a passive reporting figure that results from converting historic CPC data into CPM equivalents.


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Monday, 8 January 2007

Smart Pricing: What It Is and How It Affects AdSense Publishers

I have read so much garbage online, particularly in the official AdSense Help forum, regarding Google's Smart Pricing that I thought it was time to present the real facts about it and how it affects you, as an AdSense publisher.

Before I begin, however, I need to emphasize that I have no special insider information on the topic, and Google haven't exactly been forthcoming with how Smart Pricing really works, so I am basing this post on the information that is available on the Web from official authoritative, and reliable sources.

So, let's begin by listing some of the factors that have been stated as affecting your CPC as a result of Smart Pricing:

  • Publisher's location
  • Visitor's location
  • Web site page rank (i.e. Google pagerank) (high pagerank = move revenue, low pagerank = less revenue)
  • Whether the ad is "in 'theme'" with the page it's displayed on
  • AdWords advertisers using "untargeted" keywords for their ads
  • And so on ... the list is endless.
There also seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what Smart Pricing even is and that it is unfair to AdSense publishers. This latter point illustrates another pet issue of mine, that many AdSense publishers seem to think they have a right to be earning from AdSense and they forget that the money they earn isn't ultimately paid by Google but by regular people like you and me . . . but I've griped about that particular issue elsewhere!

So, what can we learn about Smart Pricing? I shall begin by examining official (i.e. Google) sources.

What Google Says About Smart Pricing

AdSense Help

The first thing to note about Smart Pricing is that you will find no mention of it in AdSense's help pages. This silence, in and of itself, tells you a lot about Smart Pricing, namely, that it isn't really an AdSense issue at all, it just affects AdSense publishers. If you want to find out about it in any Google help pages, you need to look in AdWords help.

AdWords Help

There are two very important pages in AdWords help on this topic that contain key information about Smart Pricing.

First, the page entitled "Can I be charged less than my minimum bid?" states:
With Google's smart pricing, we will automatically adjust the price of a content click. If we find that an ad on a content site is less likely to produce results, we may reduce the cost of your ad below the minimum bid assigned to it.
Second, the page "Do you offer separate pricing for content clicks?" states
Google's smart pricing feature automatically adjusts the cost of a keyword-targeted content click based on its effectiveness compared to a search click. So if our data shows that a click from a content page is less likely to turn into actionable business results - such as online sales, registrations, phone calls or newsletter signups - we reduce the price you pay for that click.
So, there are a couple of vitally important gems of information in these paragraphs.

1. The fundamental principle underpinning Smart Pricing is the effectiveness of a "content click" (i.e. a click on an AdSense ad) as compared to a click on the same ad in search results (i.e. a click on or another site in the Google network).

2. Effectiveness is determined in terms of the advertiser's goals ("conversions").

Note also that Smart Pricing is also based on a fundamental fact/belief that "content clicks" are always less effective than "search clicks."

Thus, Smart Pricing is a means of ensuring that the people who are actually paying the money really get what they're paying for: effective clicks. This also has the effect of encouraging advertisers to use the content network (i.e. AdSense) so, without it, there would be less advertisements for AdSense publishers to display. Thus, even though it may not seem like it, Smart Pricing actually benefits AdSense publishers as a whole too!

Official AdWords Blog ("Inside AdWords")

The Inside AdWords blog reiterates the above points from AdWords Help in various posts.

For example, in the post "A fireside chat on content targeting" the author stated "Smart Pricing automatically discounts the amount you pay for the clicks received from content sites based on the likelihood that the click will convert."

Official AdSense Blog ("Inside AdSense")

Towards the end of October, 2006 Google published a pretty informative post on this blog with the intent of clearing up some common misconceptions regarding Smart Pricing. The post contained two key sections:

Many factors determine the price of an ad . . . [m]ore than conversion rate goes into determining the price of an ad: the advertiser's bid, the quality of the ad, the other ads competing for the space, the start or end of an ad campaign, and other advertiser fluctuations.
our system for calculating advertiser pricing gets updated regularly.
I find it interesting that all of the factors that Google lists, with the exception of CTR, are advertiser related: bids, ad quality, etc. In fact, the only factor listed that is still vague enough to be open to wide interpretation is the last one, "other advertiser fluctuations." It's also important to note that the Smart Pricing algorithm "gets updated regularly" so what isn't a factor today, may be a factor tomorrow, and vice versa.

Google AdWords News Archive

In the April 2004 issue, in a section entitled "How Smart Pricing Works," you can read the following:
We take into account many factors such as what keywords or concepts triggered the ad, as well as the type of site on which the ad was served. For example, a click on an ad for digital cameras on a web page about photography tips may be worth less than a click on the same ad appearing next to a review of digital cameras. (Emphasis not in original).
Thus, we can add a couple of additional factors to our official list:
  • The keywords or concepts that triggered the ad
  • The type of site on which the ad was served
Other Authoritative and Reliable Sources of Information on Smart Pricing

JenSense Blog

In my opinion, the single most authoritative source of information regarding Smart Pricing outside of official Google sources is the post "One poorly converting site can 'smart price' an entire AdSense account" by Jennifer Clegg in her well-known JenSense blog.

In this post, Jennifer shares some information received by a former AdSense publisher that was, probably inadvertently, supplied by an AdSense Support staff member. The key points that Jennifer listed that are not mentioned in official sources are:
  • Smart pricing affects your entire AdSense account—it doesn't operate on a per page or per site basis.
  • One poorly converting site can result in smart pricing impacting an entire account, even sites completely unrelated to the poorly converting one.
  • Smart pricing is evaluated on a weekly basis.
  • Smart pricing is tracked with a 30 day cookie.
  • Conversions for smart pricing publisher accounts are tracked by those advertisers who have opted into AdWords Conversion Tracking
By far the most significant thing here is the fact that Smart Pricing operates on your entire account. Thus, as Jennifer stated, if you have one low-performing site in your account, it can affect the return from well-performing sites. That certainly warrants some serious evaluation of your sites, if you operate more than one.

I also think the fact that Smart Pricing is evaluated weekly is significant in terms of debunking a common misconception about Smart Pricing. Smart Pricing is often cited as the reason that AdSense earnings, per click, sometimes vary significantly from day-to-day. However, if Smart Pricing is evaluated weekly, it cannot possibly affect daily fluctuations, except for the days before and after the weekly evaluation!

Finally, the fact Smart Pricing is tracked using a 30 day cookie means that your current Smart Pricing may be determined by events that happened up to 29 days ago, even though Smart Pricing itself is evaluated weekly.


1. Develop a site that is both valuable and whose content is well-targeted to your audience. This is more likely to lead to meaninful clicks that will result in conversions.

2. Continue to build traffic to your site—if you are going to receive less income per click, you will need to make up the difference by getting more clicks.

3. If you have multiple sites, you may be better off removing AdSense entirely from poor-performing sites. However, as Jennifer Clegg pointed out, Google doesn't really provide you with the necessary information to make such a determination.

4. Smart Pricing is a fair system for the advertiser and also ultimately benefits the AdSense publisher because, without it, more advertisers would opt out of the content network (i.e. AdSense) entirely and then where would you be?

It is my hope that this post will help dispel some of the myths and superstitions surrounding Smart Pricing and will generally provide you with a deeper understanding of both its purpose and how it works. Official Google sources have listed several factors that determine how Smart Pricing will affect you but the key principle is that of conversions for the advertiser.

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Friday, 5 January 2007

Effective Blogging: Stick to a Theme

I recently read a question from a blogger/AdSense publisher who was wondering why his blog had such a low CTR, and also wondered if was a result of low volume traffic. This question raises a couple of important points for effective monetization of blogs.

Traffic Doesn't Affect CTR

First, the volume of traffic doesn't affect the CTR. - for example, if you get one visitor, and therefore one page impression, and that visitor clicks on an ad, that's a 100% CTR!! However, if you are lucky enough to get 5,000,000 visitors and 1,000 click on ads, that's a CTR of only 0.02%!

Themes Mean $$$

Blogs are most effective when the bulk of the posts relate to a central theme. This ensures the ads are always relevant and pertinent to your readers. On the other hand, blogs that are comprised of mostly miscellaneous rambling posts on a wide variety of topics are going to have ads related to the topics most recently posted when last visited by the AdSense bot. This means, the topics of the ads will change frequently and may well be out-of-date by the time the visitors even come to your site.

For example, supposing one day you decide to write about the hassles you had when buying a new carpet for your living room. Shortly afterwards, you'll probably find carpet-related ads appearing. Then, a few days later you decide to write about your thoughts regarding some Hollywood starlets latest antics. In that case, you'll get yet another lot of ads appearing, yet your visitors may be there to read about buying carpets, not about Hollywood gossip . . . and so on.

However, if you regularly wrote about issues involving purchases from retail outlets, and you regularly wrote about Hollywood gossip, you should simply create a "retail hassles" blog just about those types of problems and another just about Hollywood gossip, then the ads will always be relevant.


Blogs that are just meandering ramblings across a wide variety of topics will not get ads that are highly targeted to the readers and, therefore, will almost certainly get low CTRs, no matter how well placed and "optimized" they may be. Furthermore, low traffic has no affect at all on your CTRs.

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