A couple of weeks ago a thread was started at Webmater-Talk asking about an apparently new AdSense Hints Code. The code itself has actually been around for a little while. A debate ensued over whether or not publishers were permitted to use this code with myself taking the side that the code was reserved for specific publishers only.
The code in question allows the publisher to tag their pages and tell Google what kind of ads they would like to see displayed. I had never seen the code prior to the aforementioned forum thread so did a little searching for google_hints on Google itself to find many other forums that had been discussing the very same topic over the last year or so. While many in those threads agreed it was an invite only piece of code there were others using it and swearing by it’s ability to help them earn more.
I figured the best way to settle the dispute was to ask the AdSense team directly. As an aside I’ve always found the AdSense team to be extremely helpful when asking them anything and have usually gotten replies within a short time frame. James from the AdSense team sent this in reply to my question:
Thanks for your inquiry. The feature you’re referring to is one of several features the Google AdSense team is currently testing for a very limited number of publishers. At this time, we are not able to offer these features to other publishers. Should we offer these features to additional publishers in the future, we will be sure to notify you at that time. I appreciate your understanding.
Seems pretty clear to me and basically what I had assumed prior to asking for the clarity.
Some Thoughts About google_hints
While the matter is settled that publishers can’t use the code at the moment without a direct invitation from Google, the mention of the code being in beta test got me thinking about whether it would be a good idea. On the surface it’s sure to be something publishers would want to add to their AdSense code to gain greater control of the ads that will appear.
I’ve found Google does an excellent job of displaying relevant ads contextually and the longer you stay with AdSense the more relevant the ads seem to get. Still there are some who complain they never get relevant ads to appear on their site. Usually the pages in question haven’t provided all that much content for mediabot easily explaining the less than relevant ads. While many of these sites are made for AdSense (MFA) sites some are pages that simply didn’t require a lot of content. Being able to tell Google what ads to display on that page could certainly be helpful. And even if Google is getting it right it would be nice to have the ability to tweak the ads a little.
On this site I think AdSense does a great job of displaying relevant ads, however since I’ll generally write on the same few topics all the time the same ads will appear over many pages. Some of those pages don’t perform particularly well as far as the ads are concerned and there’s a part of me that would be happy to have a chance to tweak things a little to serve different yet still relevant ads to the page in question.
As nice as the google_hints code might be it still seems to me like something Google should never release into the public for all publishers. Ot at the least only release the code with limited ability to affect the ads that get served. They are just too much like a meta keywords tag for AdSense and given the abuse meta tags have been given over the years there is no question many site owners would be tagging all their pages for words like mesothelioma and asbestos in hopes of those high dollar clicks. Those publishers might not get a lot of clicks, but they would probably get more money and given the value of each click it’s easy to see where the temptation would be greater to get clicks by any means possible fraudulent or not.
The google_hints code could probably be most workable if Google were to display the ads for the most part way they currently do and use the hints code only to refine what they find through spidering the page. For example if I were to write a page on web design and use the google_hints code to direct Google to display ads for graphic designers as opposed to web designers. Or maybe I suppled a hint of web application programming or something similar so the ads would complement my own services instead of competing with them. The ads themselves would still be relevant, though perhaps slightly less than were they for web design like the page.
Another and perhaps even better use for google_hints (or a completely new tag) would be to allow publishers to let Google know what kind of ads not to display. That would alleviate the concerns of many who refrain from using AdSense in fear of sending visitors to competitor sites. While Google does allow you to block up to 200 specific URLs it might be better to let them know you don’t want to see ads on certain topics even if those topics are relevant to the page in question.
google_hints sounds like a great piece of code for publishers to give them greater control over the ads that AdSense displays on their pages. I fear the spam and abuse they could easily generate though. At the moment only a limited number of publishers can use the code so the abuse problem will likely be limited, especially as I would think Google is keeping a close eye on those sites while they test. As much as I might like to have that greater control it’s still probably best for this code never to make it into the general public as is. Webmasters were never able to control themselves when it came to meta tags and I don’t see why the situation would be any different with google_hints. However used in a limited fashion or with one or two modifications google_hints could be a great new addition for publishers looking for greater control over the ads on their sites.