For the record I don’t think AdSense is a scam and I’d like to make that clear from the start, but when I think about how to best profit as an AdSense publisher many of the tactics are designed to trick people into clicking or to at least hide the fact the ad is an ad. Is that honest? Is it a flaw in the system? Or is it business as usual?
The idea behind contextual advertising is that the ads are relevant to what you are currently looking at. You’re reading information on a site about astronomy and right there as you read is an ad for a telescope. Since the ad is aligned with your current interest you are more likely to click and more likely to buy. AdSense should in theory be sending targeted traffic to the advertiser and targeted traffic is worth paying to have.
But does it really send targeted traffic? Think about the Google Heat Map. Why do you think adds placed in areas usually occupied by navigation perform so well? Could it be that people clicking think they are clicking on a link to another page of your site and not an ad?
Similarly, why does common advice recommend blending ads into your content? Again it’s to make them look less like an ad. Much of the advice to improve click through on your ads is to reduce the chances that someone will think they are ads. Are we really sending AdWords advertisers people predisposed to buying the advertiser’s products or are we engaging in a thinly veiled form of click fraud?
Quadzilla has an interesting post today about how how you can increase your AdSense profits by observing people lacking in tech savvy.
These people don’t know about adsense or affiliate links. They can’t tell the difference between what (to you) is obviously spam and a relevant link. They stumble through the web hoping to somehow land where they want to be.
Take a look at the list of the basics Quadzilla mentions and think why they work and whether or not they work in the way an AdWords advertiser would like them to work. Think too of some other tactics to increase CTR like
- placing ads near icons
- placing ads within your content
- placing ads in common navigation locations
and ask yourself why they work and why less web savvy people are more likely to click them.
Aaron Wall wrote a post a few months back about the factors affecting AdSense CTR and earnings saying many of the same things including:
Dumb or naive people are less likely to realize they are clicking paid ads when they land on your page.
Aaron goes on to mention some common signs of intelligence or lack of intelligence such as having sites on topics geared toward kids or misspellings and misuses of language, any of which can be used to improve your AdSense earnings. He also mentions how on average a Google user is probably more savvy than someone who searches through MSN. I know the CTR from MSN and AOL searchers has always been higher than the CTR from Google searchers for this site.
If people are clicking because they are naive or because you’ve done a good job of making your ads look like content, is the system working the way it was intended? Are these people targeted in any way? If you place AdSense on a site for children is it even remotely realistic to think the person clicking an ad is likely to buy?
I mentioned at the start that I don’t think AdSense (or YPN or any form of contextual advertising) is a scam. Assuming the system is working the ad should be related to what’s on the publisher’s site. A person clicking on a link, any link, is showing an interest in what might be on the other side of that link. The person who clicked the ad for telescopes on the astronomy site is interested in astronomy and is going to be more likely to purchase one than someone without interest in astronomy. That should be true regardless of whether they realized they were clicking on an ad.
Maybe the naive clicker is a little less targeted than the person who knew they were going to land on a page selling telescopes, but they are still more targeted than some random person who happens upon an astronomy site. Advertiser sshould also be paying less for clicks on the network than at the search engine itself so the value of the click may be in line with the cost of that click.
You could even argue that the naive visitor will end up being more likely to buy than the savvy visitor. They should at least be easier to convince.
There’s still something about it that doesn’t quite sit right with me, but I don’t think it has to do with AdSense itself. It’s more something about taking advantage of those less savvy shall we say.
I’m curious what you think. Is something wrong with the concept of contextual advertising? Does it really send the kind of traffic advertisers are paying to get? Or is it all just business as usual, no different then using celebrities to push products or implying promises that no product can deliver?