Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Positioning Your Adsense Ads

The amazing thing about the Adsense advertising system is how one simple change in positioning of your ads can have a profound impact upon the earnings you receive from it. I still remember a fateful night about 8 months ago when I learnt this lesson and doubled my income overnight (no this isn’t one of those posts where I’m selling something - relax).

It was 10.30am and I was about to head to bed when on a whim I decided to shift my Adsense ads from the position that I’d always had them at the top (banner position) of the blog I was working on at the time. I shifted the ad to a new position and then got distracted with something else and forgot about it.

A few hours later (I got very distracted) I again was thinking of bed but decided to check my Adsense stats for one last time before shutting down my powerbook - imagine my surprise when I found that my click through rate was 40% higher than normal (and so was the earnings for that time of night)!? At first I thought I was dreaming, then I considered that maybe Google had made a mistake, then I panicked that someone had been randomly clicking all my ads - and then I remembered the repositioning of ads that I’d done a few hours before.

Needless to say I didn’t sleep much that night. I lay awake excited by the potential that I’d just unlocked in my blogs, inspired by the fact that I could make the same changes to all my other blogs tomorrow, kicking myself that I hadn’t done it earlier (what a missed opportunity) and wondering if there might be an even better spot to try putting my ads.

The following morning I lept out of bed and checked my Adsense stats again to find that my click through rate was even higher than the night before and that I’d stumbled upon a way of doubling my income - literally over night.

Once again the response to my post yesterday to Positioning your Adsense Ads has been quite amazing as people have emailed and left comments asking for further details of what the ’secret position’ is to place ads on a blog that will magically double earnings overnight.

Perhaps I’ve created a monster in the past week or so here in telling people how much I earn. Since then I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the attention - emails, comments, instant messaging - all on levels I’ve not experienced before from a post. I guess people want to make money from their blogs! I can’t blame them I guess - I’m obviously interested in that too.

So what is the magical, secret position to put your Adsense ads? Someone even emailed me tonight offering to pay me to reveal the secret. Hmmmm - maybe i should hold an Ebay auction and offer the information to the highest bidder!

No - I’m a nice guy - you can send cash if you want to but I’m not into secrets and am always (well usually) happy to share what I know. The ’secret’ was simply to move my ads down from the banner position into the actual post itself. At the time Adsense only allowed one ad placement per page, these days they allow three (like I have on my blog here) - so now you can actually keep your banner ad and also put one inside your content.

So why do ‘in content’ ads work better? The answer is pretty obvious - in fact its quite literally staring you in the face as you read this…’re reading this….your eyes are trained upon the content of this post. What better place to put ads than the place your reader is pretty likely to look? Now keep in mind that different websites and blogs tend to have different results when it comes to where their readers eyes are drawn to (see this fascinating blog for some studies on this) but it is generally accepted that the first paragraph of content is generally reasonably well read of most pages.

Of course there are some who argue that this isn’t an ethical thing to do - putting text link ads into the content of a blog - I’m not going to get into that argument here except to say that in my opinion blog readers are usually smart enough to tell what is content and what is an ad (the Ads by Goooogle lable is enough for me). All I’m saying here is that in my opinion and experience, the positions that generally get the highest click-throughs are within the main body and content of your blog.

I’m not really telling a massive secret here - if you look at most of the top earning blogs out there you’ll find that most of us are using the same strategy with our ad placements. There are slight variation on the theme between us but check out some of these blogs use of ads within content and you should see what I mean:

Engadget - ads placed after a post and before comments on individual pages and between posts on the main page.
Digital Photography Blog - ads here are within content at the top of posts. Another ad can be found at the bottom of posts before comments.
Mobile Tracker - ads at the end of posts and before comments on individual pages and between posts on the main page.
Gizmodo - ad at the base of each quote on individual pages and between posts on the main page.
Of course they are all variations on a theme but there is a pretty common theme there i think.

I will say this however - not all blogs are the same and each one of my blogs vary in degree to which they prove this point. Sometimes the click through rates between blogs vary incredibly despite the fact that the ads are in exactly the same position. Obviously its not as simple as just sticking an ad into the content of your blog - its worth experimenting and tracking your results. What works on one blog will not always work on another.

In my next post on this topic I’ll answer the question - ‘can you have too many adsense ads on a post?’ and ‘when does more actually = less?’

In a previous post in this series I asked the questions:

‘can you have too many adsense ads on a post?’ and ‘when does more actually = less with adsense?’

There are probably two main ways of answering these questions. The first one is from the point of view of aesthetics and the second is about cold hard cash and whether it will earn you more money to have more ads or less.

1. Aesthetics - probably the most common complaint I hear against Adsense (and other types of ads) is that advertising is an eyesore and ruins the design of a page. I’ve read post after post of people complaining that they do not want to be exposed with ads and especially offensive to their sensitivities are pages that have ads all over them.

I have some sympathy for this view and its something that always weighs heavily on my mind as a blogger - how many ads are too many ads? The beauty (probably the wrong work in a paragraph about aesthetics) of Adsense is that it is customizable and ads can be made to blend into or contrast the design of a page. Even so, the more ads you put on your page the higher the chance you have of offending the those who are advertorially (I know its not a word - I’m being post-modern) sensitive.

Related to this is the theme of your blog. I have some blogs that I only serve one ad per page (or even no ads) simply because I don’t feel its appropriate to commercialize the blog at all.

2. Financial Considerations - believe it or not - but having more Adsense ads on your site can actually mean you earn less income from them! I know this sounds stupid and some of you think I’ve finally lost it - but its true, I found out for myself last week. Let me tell you the story.

Last week I decided to ‘tweak the ads on one of my blogs’. The blog in question had two ads per page, one in a banner ad at the top of the page and the other in a position within the content section of my blog. The ad within the content was my primary ad - the one that performed best (as previously discussed). Adsense allows three ads per page so the logic in my mind said ‘three ads will perform better than two’. So I cleverly decided to ad a small ad to my side bar (similarly to the one I have on this blog at present over on the left). I added it (with a label saying it was an ad) and smuggly went to bed imagining that I’d just earned myself a few extra dollars a day.

The next day I noticed that the Click Through Rate of my Adsense ads was lower than normal overall - so were earnings. I was not too concerned because it does tend to go up and down from day to day. The following day I noticed the same thing - lower CTR and lower earnings. Day three and I was starting to worry a little that something had gone wrong as the trend continued and I had little idea why. At first it didn’t even cross my mind that the new ad might be having any impact.

I checked the channels feature of Adsese at this point and realised that only one of the many channels that I track was lower than normal. It had halved its normal rate! Of course the channel that had decreased was the primary in content ad from my blog (my cash cow of the blog).

It only took me a few moments to work out why this had happened. You see the ad that I had added to my side bar was stealing ads from my primary ad in the content and leaving it with few, if any ads to serve. Let me explain.

The way Adsense works if you have more than one ad running on a page is that it will serve ads to the ad that it finds first on your blog. It fills up the first one first, the second one in the code second and the third one in the code third. If at any point it runs out of relevant ads it stops serving them and you either end up with a public service ad, an empty space or an alternate ad (depending upon how you configure your set up).

On that particular blog the code was in this order.

- 1 Banner ad

- 2 Side bar ad

- 3 In content ad

You can see what was happening - the banner ad got first priority and was always served ads. The side bar ad almost always got ads and the in content ad got them some (50%) of the time. Of course this left my primary position empty half of the time (not a wise move).

You can probably guess what I did faster than a speeding bullet - side bar ad was gone very quickly and the banner ad didn’t last long either. Now the in content ad is always full and I have moved a secondary ad further down the page. CTR and revenue are back up to normal (in fact they are up a bit).

So - take home message time. When designing the ads on your page rank your ad positions in terms of priority. Which spot do you want to get the first ads and always be full? Which are secondary spots that don’t matter so much if they are empty from time to time? Then check to see which order they appear in the code on your site. This is easily done. Simply select the ‘view source’ option in your browser. This should open a window that shows you the back end of the page you’re viewing - find the google adsense code and work out which is which (you should be able to tell by the size of the ad). If your primary ad isn’t the first one you might need to make some changes either to where you place your ads or to how your blog is configured and serves the code.

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