Exploring AdSense? Here's a '101'-Level Primer.
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There are many ways to monetize a website. And of those, one of the most simplistic and easily employed methods is advertising.
Google is offering just such a program for website owners: AdSense. AdSense works to match text ads and display ads to the content already on your website, making them highly relevant and clickable.
You get to decide on the size of the ads, as well as where you want to place them. And, with text ads, you can even customize the colors and the ads' overall appearance.
But, to make any money with ads, you need to do two things: comply with Google’s terms of service, and drive traffic to your site. So, here’s a brief rundown of how to do that, along with some basic information on how AdSense works and what to do to generate revenue.
How AdSense works
Google employs a real-time auction for advertisers to bid on ad spaces. When a specific advertiser puts forth the highest-paying ad, that ad is automatically displayed on your website. There is no need to approve a list of ads to start monetizing with AdSense, though you do have some control over the content that’s shown: You can allow or block ads based on your preferences.
AdSense users are paid according to the number of impressions and clicks their ads receive. For this reason, AdSense sites have traditionally fallen into one of two categories, though there are others:
- Publishers with a high volume of daily content. When it comes to advertising, the more traffic and the higher the number of impressions and clicks, the better. A constant flow of content keeps visitors coming back for more.
- Portal sites. These are sites with highly targeted keywords that display the maximum number of ads and have a high bounce rate because of how often and how quickly users click away from them.
It’s safe to say that there are pros and cons to both of these approaches and that the effectiveness of portal sites is suspect at best. But, bottom line, even a site with a slower publishing schedule of quality content can benefit from using AdSense ads, assuming it's driving traffic.
So, that's how AdSense works. Now, here are some best practices for making the most of your AdSense account.
Follow best practices.
Some popular locations for ad units include: the header, the sidebar, the actual content, below blog posts and in the footer. You’ll want to display ads strategically, to maximize revenue, especially since you can only have up to three ads on a single page. Where you display ads will also be contingent on the particular website theme or design you’re using.
Here are some best practices all website owners should follow:
- Make sure you aren’t violating any of Google’s AdSense policies, or you account may be banned.
- Check for the successful implementation of ad units on your site. They usually take a little bit of time to populate after installation. View your website on different browsers, to be sure.
- Move ads away from other links or clickable content on your site. This will help you reduce accidental clicks.
- Be on the watch for sudden spikes in traffic. Monitor your website with Google Analytics for unusual activity.
- Keep your content “family-safe,” or you could end up violating the terms of service.
- Make sure your ads are mobile-friendly. Screen size can have a significant impact on what the user sees, and how intrusive the ads are. Either minimize the number of in-content ads, or use responsive ads.
Placing your ads
Google has several suggestions for the placement of your ads.
Its most important recommendation is to prioritize user experience over maximized ad revenue. Sneaky "black hat" tactics should be avoided. Google does not allow you to draw attention to your ads or to encourage your website visitors to click on them, even if that action is designed to “help you out.” If you want to solicit financial support, consider implementing a tip jar -- such as with PayPal -- instead.
The only Google-approved label for ads on your site is “Advertisements” or “Sponsored links,” so don’t use any other copy.
In addition, clean up your site’s navigation and keep searcher intent in mind when creating content. Also: Implement ads without getting in the way of the user, make the ads easy to read and create a pleasant experience overall.
Google notes that three ad units per page isn’t always ideal for a good user experience. Be aware of when one or two ads would be better for the user than the full three.
Finally, in terms of a more advanced tip, use heatmap software to determine exactly what your visitors are looking at most on your website, as well as what they’re clicking on. This data can help you decide on the best placement for your ad units.
Optimize ad performance.
Once you've built your website, placed your ad units and made sure you've adhered to best practices, you only have to optimize your ad performance.
This actually begins with choosing your ad types, sizes and locations. These may seem like small considerations, but they are quite important. When you go to create ads within your AdSense account, Google will suggest that you use certain ad sizes. By all means, use the recommended ad units, but also try experimenting with others to find out what works best for you.
Also, keep watch on the ad content appearing on your site. If you think certain ads shouldn’t be appearing on your site at all, block them. That way, irrelevant ads will show up less on your site.
Another tip is to A/B split-test your ads. This is simply the process of comparing the efficacy of one ad over another, typically by altering one small variable, such as the link color. Fortunately, this function is built right into AdSense, which is convenient. Be clear on what you want to test, and run separate experiments in instances where you want to test more than one variable.
If ads are your primary source of revenue, then traffic and optimization are the two keys to your success, and even the future sale of your site. Without traffic, you won’t make any money, and even if you do have traffic, with weak ad performance you still won’t make money.
Finally, consider that, when valuing an advertising site, potential buyers don’t shy away from sites needing a little improvement. So, while you don’t have to have reached peak effectiveness with your ad revenue, to achieve a healthy exit, you should still optimize your process.