Using Google Ads

By Shamus Posted Thursday Feb 1, 2007

Filed under: Projects 16 comments

This is a collection of notes and observations on Google Ads. Nothing really interesting to see here, unless you use them on your own site. If you do (or are thinking of doing so) then you might want to check this out.

Thanks to Pixy Misa, the site is no longer starved for bandwidth and I no longer need the ads on the front page. So ads now only appear on individual posts. I could get rid of them entirely, but they bring in a couple of bucks and many people said they liked them or didn’t mind. Also, I’m having fun figuring out how they work. This subject is far deeper than I imagined in the beginning, when I thought it was about “place ugly ads, beg for clicks”.

My ads were really off-target for the first couple of weeks. Senslessly off-target. It was throwing up ads for zoot suits, automotive parts, and (worst of all) mobile phone custom tunes which are used to signify an incoming call. (I dare not speak the proper words, lest they return.) Really cheap, sleazy, or otherwise useless stuff. As a sort of desperate attempt to fix this and get ads for proper stuff, I added some small images with a lot of keywords and sprinkled them around the site. If you mouse over the dark die at the top of the sidebar, you’ll see the keywords. A couple of days after these went into place, the ads started working right on individual posts, but I’m not convinced the dice had anything to do with it. Google doesn’t re-load my page more than once every couple of days, so this is really tricky to experiment with.

But even after adding the dice, ads on the front page behaved very badly. The diverse subjects from the many posts would confuse it, and I’d end up with advertisements for random stupid stuff. I have dumped these ads, so my front page is now clean.

The ads on individual posts work pretty well now. Video game posts have ads for games, D&D stuff has ads for dice or miniatures. I’m happy with this. Note to people selling dice: Get an image ad! You’ll sell millions. Nobody can resist clicking on gittering, brightly-colored 20-siders. I know I can’t.

With the front-page ads turned off, there is a lot less “noise” in the system now. Before, I couldn’t tell if nobody was clicking on the ads because they weren’t interested, or because they were grossly mis-targeted. Now ads are on-target, and so I can see how they behave and (let’s be honest here) how much money they make.

Over the past few weeks the site has been set to randomly choose between text ads (usually four ads in a vertical stack) and image ads. Each time the page is loaded, PHP flips a coin and gives you one or the other. Both types of ads occupy the same location and take up the same space. From a screen real-estate perspective, they are identical.

To my surprise, text ads are most profitable on a per-click basis. It seems to vary, but I get anywhere from 9¢ to 21¢ for a single click on one of those text ads. Image ads make about one-third of that, but of course they are more eye-catching and so people click on them more often. Interestingly, in the long run it’s a wash: They bring in about the same amount of money. (Note that all of this will be in US cents. I have no idea how to convert cents to brass farthings, or wooden nickles, or EuroTokens, or whatever they use elsewhere to denote trivial amounts of money.)

So text ads and image ads bring in the same income. I wonder how well this works for blogs on other subjects? What would happen if I were to start writing about politics? Aside from the readership changes this would cause, how would this affect ads? I imagine political ads favor the text variety, and image-based political ads are rare. (Or ugly.) So, even if I maintained the same readership and readers continued to click on ads at the same rate, there would be fewer image ads (thus more repeats) and thus the image ads might become a loser. I wonder if some subjects are more profitable than others? Perhaps blogs about sports and betting make more than blogs about hunting and fishing, but both make less than blogs about homeschooling and cookie recipies. I don’t know.

This makes figuring out what sorts of ads to use on your site a real trick. There is no good guide for what sorts of ads are winners, which ones are losers, and how to evaluate the tradeoffs. You just have to experiment.

Here are some things I believe are true, based on my various observations:

  1. Banner ads are all but useless. Personally, I find them to be the most ugly as well. I have a banner ad on the first DM of the Rings post. It’s a high-traffic page, but (as I suspected) nobody clicks on the banner. It’s ugly, cheap, and in the way.
  2. Switching between text and images is probably optimal. Poeple come back often, and ideally you want them to see something new each time. If they didn’t click on the last ad, then they probably won’t do so when they see it a second time. If they did, well – then they don’t need to click on it. There are a limited number of each kind of ad, so mixing it up will enlarge the pool of available ads and keep things changing.
  3. You need to remove or block some advertisers. It’s like weeding the garden.

    Even when targeting is working right on your end, some advertisers don’t bother to target properly. This is particularly true when dealing with sleazy stuff like “non-landline phone ring tunes” and mortgage stuff. Those guys don’t care where their ads go – as long as they go everywhere. This is a sure way to make your ads look cheap, ugly, and to teach readers to ignore them. Nobody clicks on those ads anyway. They are pollution, and they will lower the performance of your “good” ads.

    Whenever you see one of these ads – or anything else that really uglies up your site – add that advertiser to your list of “competitors” so their ads will no longer appear. Always block on a domain level. If an ad links to then take off the directory and the subdomain, and just block “”. These guys usually have a million subdomains, and you don’t want to be chasing these guys around for weeks. Go right for the jugular.

    Also, weed out ugly ads. I’m pretty sure Google doesn’t allow stuff like those red and blue strobing monsters you see on MySpace (Refinance your house once you wake up from this siezure!), but there are plenty of cheap, ugly ads out there that are deserving of blocking. It’s not like they pay more than regualr ones.

  4. Change the ad colors every once in a while. Every time I change the colors, I’ll get a noticable boost to my clicks for a day or two. People get used to seeing the thing over there, and switching the colors around keeps it visually interesting.
  5. For crying out loud, make the ads look nice! You don’t need ugly neon green that clashes with the site. Yes, that will draw the eye, but come on… you have to really hate your site to do something like that to it. If your theme is (like mine) yellow and blue, make the ad have a yellow border with blue links. Then in a couple of weeks make a blue border with yellow links. (Or whatever looks good.) Instead of making the ad stick out with lurid colors, try to make it look like part of the site.

From The Archives:

16 thoughts on “Using Google Ads

  1. mookers says:

    I use Webwasher, and only disable it for sites that misbehave when it’s enabled. I’ve never seen an ad on your site. :P

  2. Very interesting information. I go back and forth on whether I should have ads or not, then I remember: I don’t have readers!

  3. Hal says:

    You know what I find amusing?

    If you use GMail, Google ads run on your mailboxes. If you’re looking in your spam folder? You get google ads for Spam recipes and cookbooks.

    Freakin’ hilarious. I wonder how many clicks those get?

  4. ScottM says:

    Sounds like good advice, hard won, which is the most trustworthy.

  5. empty_other says:

    If only all web masters using ads would do an analyze like that, the users wouldn’t start using ad blocks. I hate flashy ads who takes 3x more time to load than the page i am visiting, who does not in any way relate to me, and i will do ANYthing to get rid of them. And the web masters who thought himself so smart, “if the user cant stop watching my ad, they will of course click on it, duh”, finds himself with close to no revenue from ads.

  6. SteveDJ says:

    As a reader who rarely, but sometimes, clicks on ads, can I make a request? Can you set it to have the clicked-on ad open in a new browser window?

    I absolutely HATE it when I do click an ad, and it takes me away from where I was. Sometimes, I’d like the ad to open in another window, which I then would minimize and go to AFTER I’m done reading or doing what I’m doing at the current site.

    Make any sense? Is this doable?

  7. Shamus says:

    Sadly, no. The google ad unit is a javascript beyond my control. The TOS forbid me from clicking on my own ads (they offer an external tool so I can click on ads and examine their destinations without violating the TOS) so I wasn’t aware of this until you pointed it out.

    But now that you meantion that: Yeah. They really ought to offer that functionality.

  8. Cineris says:

    SteveDJ, I don’t know what browser you are using but (IIRC) in Firefox if one holds down alt while clicking the link will open up in a new tab. In Opera it seems to be shift-click, although I don’t know if there’s an option in Internet Explorer or Safari.

  9. Malkara says:

    In firefox, just middle-click.

  10. Karaden says:

    In IE you can just rightclick it and open in new window. I generaly do that even on stuff that usualy does open on new windows just to be sure.

  11. Karaden says:


    There only seems to be one graphic ad for this post.

  12. Rufus Polson says:

    SteveDJ, there are lots of reasons why in this day and age you don’t want to be browsing with Internet Explorer. Lack of tabs (finally there in the new IE 7) is just one of them. Life is better with Firefox.

  13. ngthagg says:

    I laughed when you said no one can resist clicking on shiny d20s. I, as a rule, never click on ads when I’m surfing. But then, as I flipped through old DMotRs, an ad for dice came up . . . with a shiny d20 . . . and chainmail dice bags . . . and I clicked.

    Shiny d20 ads – 1
    Willpower – 0

  14. bkw says:

    There are ads on the interweb?

    My brain seems to filter out anything that is banner-ad sized or those side banners. I’ve noticed recently that I’m not even seeing those in-line square jobbies either — my brain literally filters them out.

    There was a blog I happened across whose navigation was the same size as google’s ad div, and I couldn’t figure out how to get around the site because I wasn’t paying any attention to that area of the screen.

    The brain’s an interesting thing.

    1. Rick says:

      I got completely lost on a particular website once, I had no idea how to navigate anywhere. It turned out their menu looked just like a banner ad and my brain had filtered it out for me.

  15. Andre says:

    Shamus, I liked your idea about hiding alt tags in the dice image, but when I looked it up I found it was against Google’s policy… and you know how they can be about their holy policy. I don’t know if you were aware of that, but since you seem to be someone who cares about little things like that (and I mean that as a compliment), I figured I’d clue you in if you didn’t already know.

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