A hot topic of discussion during last month’s KDMC News Entrepreneur Boot Camp was online advertising networks, specifically Google’s AdSense program for publishers. More than one speaker cautioned the participants to not expect much from AdSense. At the camp and at other industry gatherings, I’ve heard many folks dismiss AdSense revenues as delivering CPMs “in the pennies.”
Yet I know, from personal experience and from speaking with other publishers in the program, that much higher returns are possible, including daily average CPMs in double digits – and yes, I mean dollars, not cents.
How can a news website publisher earn more money from AdSense? I suspect that because starting with the program is so easy – you can set it up with little or no thought at all – that many AdSense publishers give the program… little or no thought.
That’s a huge mistake. Everything that you do on your website – from design to reporting to community management to advertising – should be done with intent. Give any aspect of your publication little thought, and you should expect little in return from it.
If you’re going to put AdSense ads on your website, or banner ads of any type, you must do so thoughtfully, using sound optimization techniques. Based on my experience, here are my suggestions for AdSense publishers:
Choose the right ad units
You want to place ad units on your site that are used widely by advertisers. While AdSense uses industry-standard ad sizes, some sizes clearly are more popular among advertisers than others.
In addition, some ad sizes support graphic ads, including Flash, while others rarely attract image ads. You want as many advertisers competing for your ad space possible, so select ad sizes that support the entire range of ad formats.
In my experience, AdSense offers three ad formats that deliver high CPMs:
- The 160×600 Wide Skyscraper
- The 300×250 Medium Rectangle
- The 728×90 Leaderboard
In addition, an AdSense Link Unit can deliver respectable CPMs, if placed in a logical navigation position on your site, such as at the bottom of an article, the top of the page, or after a navigation bar.
Opt into image ads
When AdSense first launched, its text ads stood out among the flood of bad image banners polluting the Internet at the time. Today, with so many publishers, from large newsrooms to part-time bloggers, deploying AdSense on their websites, well-produced Flash and Animated GIF ads are the ones that stand out and elicit clicks.
But you won’t attract those ads onto your site if you haven’t opted into images ads for your ad placements.
Simplify your page design
Most newspaper websites are laden with horribly complex page designs. Keep it simple, if you want your readers to see and click on your ads. A basic two- or three-column layout is all you need online for most text-driven context. Lose the layers, the floating cells and the carousels. Design your page layout around the positioning of those ad sizes I mentioned above and flow your articles and navigation simply around them.
Here’s my rule: Complex page design = lousy ad network CPM. Choose which is more important to you.
Use heatmaps and eye-tracking research
Here is Google’s eye-tracking heat map of where readers engage with ads on a webpage. Look for other eye-tracking research online and use the findings to guide your page design decisions. Ask other publishers what has worked for them. (FWIW, I’ve had huge success with a medium rectangle placed at the top of a 300-pixel-wide right-side navigation bar.)
Then experiment, using A/B testing wherever you can to find the simple, elegant page design and ad position that delivers the highest CPM for you.
Writing in a style that’s optimized for search engines should be reflex for anyone writing online. Know the search terms that would-be readers are likely to use when searching for an article such as yours and use those terms in your headline, your lead and throughout the story. Don’t publish duplicates of the same story at multiple URLs.
SEO is important not only in driving readers to your website, it’s essential in helping AdSense know what would be the most appropriate ads to serve on a specific page on a particular website. Lots of promos to other, semi-related content elsewhere on your site confuses the search engines, often leading to poorly-targeted ads. Lose those promos and simplify both your writing and page design to elicit better-targeted ads.
Don’t compete with yourself
Many websites are designed in an attempt to get readers to click to other content on that site, once they’ve finished on a specific page. Ads are placed as afterthoughts within that design.
I say, when readers have a choice between clicking on another page on my site or an ad, I’d rather they click on the ad. Why? Because that click makes me money right now. And if a reader is really interested in content on my site, well, he or she found me before, and they can find me again.
Create sharply focused evergreen topic pages
This is where news websites fail. AdSense delivers its best results on pages that have been around long enough for Google to collect some data about what ads work on that page, and what ads don’t. News sites, with an ever-changing line-up of flash-in-the-pan articles, elicit poorly targeted ads because those articles don’t stick around long enough to build any history with AdSense.
And when individual pages don’t build any history, neither does the website.
Web publishers need a foundation of core URLs, sharply targeted to individual topics, that will continue to attract traffic over long periods of time. Envision an SEO-focused, “Wikipedia”-style guide to your beat, but written (or at least controlled) by your staff. That’s what you need, both to establish a strong base of AdSense income and to direct Google in selecting and displaying relevant AdSense ads everywhere else on your website.
In conclusion, you want:
The right ad formats,
in a simple design,
around sharply focused writing,
on a core of evergreen content pages.
Stop treating AdSense as an afterthought, or a no-thought-at-all, and you’ll begin to see better results.