You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

Exploring AdSense? Here's a '101'-Level Primer. Google wants to put ads on your site and give you control. How cool is that?

By Thomas Smale

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Denys Prykhodov | Shutterstock

There are many ways to monetize a website. And of those, one of the most simplistic and easily employed methods is advertising.

Related: Are You Taking Advantage of Google's Local Inventory Ads?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Related: 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Google AdWords

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.

Final thoughts

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.

Related: YouTube Is a Lousy Place to 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.

Thomas Smale

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

Founder of FE International

Thomas Smale co-founded FE International in 2010. He has been interviewed on podcasts, blogs and also spoken at a number of industry events on online businesses, exit strategy and selling businesses.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Side Hustle

This Insurance Agent Started a Side Hustle Inspired By Nostalgia for His Home State — Now It Earns Nearly $40,000 a Month

After moving to New York City, Danny Trejo started a business to stay in touch with his roots — literally.

Thought Leaders

Many of Your Employees Are Probably Healing From Past Workplace Trauma. Here's How You Can Help Empower Them.

There is no magic way of healing people of their preexisting workplace trauma — but leaders can (and should want to) help.

Business News

CPI Report: Inflation Rose More Than Expected in March, Driven By Housing and Energy Costs

The average U.S. household is paying $227 more per month for goods compared to one year ago.

Business Process

AI-Generated Images or Stock Photography? Here's How Entrepreneurs Can Navigate the Dynamic Photography Industry

Entrepreneurs eyeing long-term financial gains find stock photography, a $4 billion market in 2023, enticing. Yet, AI's rise prompts a shift from cameras to algorithms.

Business News

Scrabble Makes First Change to Its Board in Over 75 Years

The new roll out is only available in Europe as of now.

Business News

Popular YouTube Influencers Score $100 Million Private Equity Investment

Dude Perfect currently boasts over 60 million YouTube subscribers.