Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Battling Adsense Graphics Restrictions with Better Content

by Carson Brackney

If you generate substantial earnings via Adsense, you probably know that the use of photos or other related graphics near the ad blocks has a tendency to increase click-through rates. As with all things Adsense, the data is cloudy, but many people report that the addition of a graphical component to their Adsense strategy has resulting in massive gains. Some say CTR doubles with the images. Others say they triple.

I have no way of knowing how much difference having a picture of a monkey next to an Adsense ad about monkey food will increase CTR, but there's no doubt that it would help.

That's why thousands of Adsense publishers have carefully constructed pages and templates that place pictures cozily near the ad blocks.

Google's TOS has always contained verbiage warning publishers against misleading end users with the photos, etc. However, Adsense left a fair amount of room for interpretation and even gave webmasters indications that using graphics in conjunction with the ads was permissible if a border was in place, if the pics weren't "too close," etc.

That's changed. Google "clarified" their policy and that clarification looks a lot like something destined to kick many image-reliant publishers in the backside. Here's a highlight:

"You can definitely place Google ads on pages containing images - just make sure that the ads and images are not arranged in a way that could easily mislead or confuse your visitors. For example, if you run a stock photography site with a catalog of thumbnail images, don't line the ads up with the thumbnails in a way that could be misleading. Consider using a full border around your ads or changing your ad colors, for example."

In other words, you can have ads and pics on the same page, so long as they don't look like they are meant to go with one another. If your images look like part of the ads or if they draw attention to the ads by creating a well-blended design, prepare to get yelled at by the folks at Adsense and to risk the death penalty of an account ban.

I really don't have a horse in this race, as a publisher. I do run a few blogs that generate a nice monthly check via Adsense, but none of them utilize images anywhere even close to the ad blocks.

I can understand Google's position and how this shift might be a good thing for the advertisers that keep the program afloat. I can also understand the hordes of Adsense publishers who are more than a little miffed about the clarification.

I'm less interested in debating the merits of the policy clarification than I am in how Adsense publishers can adjust successfully to the new required environment.

As a writer, I think the answer might be better content. That's a self-serving argument, but consider this...

Adsense earnings can be distilled down to a basic equation:

page views X click-through rate X payment per ad click = $$$

or, if you prefer...

PV x CTR x PPC = $$$

That means there are three ways to counteract the graphics policy clarification. You can find a way to increase traffic, you can find a different way to increase CTR or you can do something to increase the average value of each ad click.

Here's how better written content (hereafter "content" for this post) can work on all three levels.

Traffic. Good content attracts visitors. Fresh content feeds Googlebots. None of that's a newsflash. I'm not going to belabor this one.

PPC. Content plays a role in PPC earnings, too. If you are doing any Adwords/Adsense arbitrage, the quality of your landing page content is going to affect your payouts. Of course, the right keyword use is going to serve up the right ads, too. In all honesty, though, adjusting the nature of your content probably won't have massive influence unless you are shifting topic areas. There are exceptions to that rule, but not many.

CTR. The right text can do more than fill space and serve up ads. It can provide a quality user experience that leads the reader to want to learn more about a topic or to investigate products and services related to the topic.

The traditional Adsense model sees content as a tool that will encourage Adsense to serve up the right ads. It neglects the potential "sell value" of content, even in a PPC-supported environment.

You've undoubtedly read more than a few sales letters. You may have even read a few of the ones I've written for my clients. That kind of precision copywriting is designed with one goal in mind--to convert prospects into buyers. The gap between the typical Adsense-monetized site and a sales letter might seem so extreme as to invalidate comparisons, but that's not the case.

Think of the products and services offered in those ad blocks as a product for a moment. How are you going to move your visitors from the content on the page to those product links? The same way other marketers have been doing it for years--by providing text that inspires action.

You don't necessarily need Adsense content that approximates a traditional sales page. If that's on your mind, consider shifting to an affiliate marketing model. What you can use is content written with an actual objective in mind, instead of the usual "straight info" yawners that make up most Adsense-supported pages.

I'm not talking about content that says "click on the ads" or some other violation of Adsense TOS. I'm talking about content specifically designed to create the kind of interest and curiosity that will inspire visitors to check out those ads on their own.

That represents a shift from the primarily "information only" nature of most Adsense-supported sites. It combines persuasion and copywriting in a PPC environment to maximize CTR.

That requires some skill in writing and it's not the kind of content you can score for a buck per page. It does, however, have a proven ability to increase CTR enough to make the investment worthwhile.

The ads may not work as well without the graphics, but they can still work. That's especially true when the rest of the page's content is designed with encouraging the right user response in mind.

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